Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Dangerous Nature of America First

Since the election campaign, President Donald Trump has been stressing the foreign policy key word of “America First”, which raises critical concerns among American allies, while Russia and China are exploring more vigorously to overturn Western supremacy, and Iran and North Korea are testing the new administration in Washington. Some people believe naïvely that there is no problem for any nation state to give priorities to her own people and national interests. Things are not so simple, and we should never dismiss the dangerous and caustic nature of this ideology.

First of all, Trump understands US foreign policy so poorly that he falls into believing in selfish and defensive views of the world. As a Jewish immigrant from the old Soviet Union in the childhood, Max Boot criticizes Trump’s bigoted zero-sum perspectives. Notably, Trump sees that America has been so altruistic that her trade partners have exploited the working class in the Rust Belt. To the contrary, it is universally understood that American help to reconstruct her former enemies to become friendly trade partners and allies is a successful landmark of her foreign policy. It is quite worrisome that Trump does not evaluate highly of American ideals, including human rights, and that is bitterly criticized by European allies and international NGOs. Actually, human rights advocacy has weakened American enemies such as the Soviet Union, and bolstered American power, through promoting democracy and freedom. An immigrant from the Soviet Union like Boot is well much more aware of it than Trump (“Grave Dangers and Deep Sadness of “America First”: .Foreign Policy --- Voice; January 23, 2017).

Meanwhile, far right nationalists in Europe and Japan are emotionally empathetic to Trump’s vision, though it hurts national security interests of their countries. This is because such self-assumed grassroots patriots detest globalist élites, and they want bullying Trump to defeat cosmopolitan ruling class. It is White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who provides the philosophical foundation for Trump’s America First. Professor Daniel Kreiss at the University of North Carolina points out that the pillars of Bannnon’s idea are economic nationalism and antipathy to corporatist global élites. In Bannon’s view, the world is inherently an arena of nation state competition. From this point of view, he believes that trade, immigration, and multilateral cooperation erodes national sovereignty and identity. Instead of universalism that modern enlightenment advocates, Bannon understands international politics in terms of the Clash of Civilization, and sees Islam inherently belligerent. Seen from Bannon’s theory of global class struggle, cosmopolitan élites are so corporatist as to sacrifice American interests for the sake of their business, and the media are on their side. In order to overturn such an élitist nation, he wants to destroy the administrative state that is closely tied with corporatist ruling class and infringes on people. America First is based on a dangerous populist idea like this (“Stephen K. Bannon’s CPAC Comments, Annotated and Explained”; New York Times; February 24, 2017).

Since Trump suggested abolishing alliances with Europe and Japan, his foreign policy is commonly seen isolationism. However, Kreiss insists that Bannon’s thoughts are essentially nationalism, and that does not hesitate foreign intervention, only in order to maximize national interests in a ruthlessly competitive world. Unlike neoconservatives’ regime change, Trump’s intervention is not based on such a universal ideal but sporadic recognition of international affairs. Trump is unpredictable not just because of his temperament, but because of Bannon’s ideology. Elliot Cohen and his proponents are right to denounce Trump’s swing from disengagement to belligerent adventurism in the open letter. In view of Bannon’s influence on Trump like this, so called flattery diplomacy by major power leaders notably British Prime Minister Theresa May and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is no guarantee to develop stable relations with the new administration. Professionalism of ex-generals in the cabinet, notably Secretary of Defense James Mattis and new National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, can curtail Bannon’s alt right influence, as seen in their objection to Trump’s anti-Muslim policies and remarks. Marine General Joseph Dunford who chairs the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Senator John McCain joins them. The three generals lived under the same roof with Muslims to fight against terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, and McCain is a highly credentialed Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (“Trump's new security advisor differs from him on Russia, other key issues”; Reuters News; February 22, 2017).

Max Boot argues that such hatred against rootless cosmopolitan simulates xenophobia and anti-Semitism, which is closely associated with undemocratic nationalists like Josef Stalin and Charles Lindbergh. He says that he has not seen the rise of anti-Semitism ever since he settled in the United States, until quite recently (“The Bannon Administration?”; Commentary; January 31, 2017). Boot’s worries have come to reality in Trump’s appointment of Sebastian Gorka to the Deputy Assistant to the President. Prior to acquiring US citizenship in 2012, Gorka was in close contacts with Hungarian far rights, anti-Semitic, and racist people and organization through his careers in politics and journalism. Moreover, he is an “in-house think tank” for Bannon, as a counterterrorism expert (“Exclusive: Senior Trump Aide Forged Key Ties To Anti-Semitic Groups In Hungary”; Forward; February 24, 2017).

In resonance with the alt-right in the United States, a Russian neo-Eurasianist Alexander Dugin is exploring to seize the opportunity to work with the Trump administration to repeal the current liberal world order, while expanding Russian influence from Ukraine to the Middle East, including Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia calls Dugin “Putin’s Bannon”. Dugin told Turkish President Recep Erdoğan that America and NATO allies conspired the coup d'état led by Fethullah Gülen to drive a wedge between Russia and Turkey. That echoes Trump’s skepticism to NATO. America First is the ideology of dissolving the Western democratic alliance (“The One Russian Linking Putin, Erdogan and Trump”; Bloomberg News; February 2, 2017). There is no wonder why Trump and Putin are so closely entangled, and Bannon’s anti-globalism charms nativists in Europe and Japan so much. The danger of America First is too critical to dismiss.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Trump Has Made America a Trouble Spot on Human Rights

The United States has been assuming herself an indispensable nation to promote democracy and freedom throughout the world. Since American values are deeply intertwined with her global strategy, hardly anyone has doubted her commitment to human rights. However, a new year report by Human Rights Watch told shockingly, that Trump’s America has now become a threat to human rights in the world.

The report entitled “The Dangerous Rise of Populism” presents an overview that the global economy has marginalized numerous people, and they are frustrated with their governments and global élites, as they feel themselves completely forgotten despite growing inequality. The problem is that demagogues abuse such populist resentment by assuming themselves to represent the grassroots majority. They impose the majority will at the expense of human rights to every domestic and foreign citizen. Deplorably, Western political leaders appear to have lost confidence in human rights values to face off bigoted and dangerous populism, except few of them like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But that is too weak to stand against the Trumpian mega shock. Also, British Prime Minister Theresa May is too receptive to nationalist upheavals, while Merkel faces tough challenges by the AfD in the general election this year.

In view of such trends, I would like to narrate how the Human Rights Watch report sees the impact of the Trump phenomenon. While Trump’s provocative rhetoric to scapegoat immigrants and trade partners satisfies know nothing bluecollar supporters, that will simply bring about economic stagnation, if implemented. Despite that, he signed the executive order to repeal the TPP and impose a Muslim ban, because he sees Middle Eastern refugees as security risks. In this context, Trump tightens surveillance on domestic citizens, which is beyond judicially supervised and targeted one. Trump’s Muslim ban is criticized unconstitutional (“Immigration analyst: Trump refugee ban is illegal”; Hill; January 28, 2017), and federal judges in some states block the order, meanwhile, Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates as she refused to follow his executive order (“Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration: What We Know and What We Don’t”; New York Times; January 29, 2017).

Immediately after the inauguration speech, Human Rights Watch Executive director Kenneth Roth said “Even if President Trump acts only on ten percent of the most problematic of his campaign proposals, it will cause a momentous setback for human rights at home and abroad.” He continues to say, “By trampling on the rights of millions of people in the US and abroad, Trump’s proposals if enacted would weaken everybody’s rights”. While putting American democracy into confusion, Trump does not hesitate to collaborate with autocracies, which is further a concern for human rights promotion (“US: Dawn of Dangerous New Era”; Human Rights Watch; January 20, 2017). Quite alarmingly, Trump issues the executive orders rapidly though most of them were severely criticized during the campaign, without consulting government agencies and the Hill (“White House failed to consult federal agencies on Trump's executive orders, report claims”; Aol News; January 26, 2017). Considering his egomaniac and flamboyant temperament, it is quite questionable whether Trump listens to advices by British Prime Minister Theresa May on Russia and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on refugees seriously.

Furthermore, Trump’s poor awareness of human rights is typically seen in his reckless remark that torture was effective to get information from terrorist suspects. However, when Trump asked Ex Marine General James Mattis for his Secretary of Defense, he withdrew the idea, and accepted Mattis’s idea that trust and rewarding would lead the suspect to more cooperative (“Marine General 'Mad Dog' Mattis got Trump to rethink his position on torture in under an hour”; Business Insider; November 22, 2016). However, his suggestion to bring back torture, spurred controversies at the Hill, and Senator John McCain demanded the President to act legally (“McCain to Trump: 'We're not bringing back torture'”; Hill; January 25, 2016). Though Trump mentioned that he would follow the advice by Mattis at the press conference of the US-UK summit (“Laura Kuenssberg's stern questioning of Donald Trump angers president's supporters”; Daily Telegraph; 27 January, 2017), it reveals that Trump is extremely uneducated and even desperately illiterate in human rights.

The appointment of Rex Tillerson to the Secretary of State raises additional concerns. Some people expect high job performance to him with his management and negotiation skills as a former Exxon Mobile CEO. However, public service is not so simple as profit chasing. At the hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tillerson exhibited poor knowledge in key American foreign policy issues like ISIS (“Rex Tillerson is unqualified to be secretary of state”; Boston Globe; January 12, 2017). In addition, his questionable ties with Russia, his poor awareness of human rights is a critical disadvantage for his job. At the hearing, he failed to answer well on some critical human rights questions, such as female rights in Saudi Arabia, R2P in Syria, repressive Duterte policies in the Philippines (“Tillerson doesn’t seem to realize speaking up for human rights is part of the job” Washington Post; January 12, 2017). Donald Trump’s imprudent slanders show that he is utterly incognizant of human rights. In view of poor performance at the hearing, it is quite hard to expect that Tillerson can supplement Trump’s terrible drawbacks.

How should the global community, particularly the Western alliance, manage Trump’s America like this? We have to notice that his America First is based on the idea of survival of the fittest in a completely competitive and orderless world. Since he wants to exploit such a disorder to maximize his perceived American interest, he is weakening current global norms and multilateral framework by all means. It is nothing strange that Trump is so disdainful to human rights. Spiegel editorial argues that Western democracies be united against Trump to defend international norms and universal values (“Time for an International Front Against Trump”; Spiegel; January 20, 2017). We can reaffirm human rights in this way.

Also, the leaders of democratic nations have to explore the channel of influence in the United States. First of all, we should not equalize Trump and America. British Prime Minister May was obsessed with building strong ties with the Trump when she visited the White House. However, her weak response to the Muslim ban has led to vehement criticism in the UK, as she appears too flattery to Trump (“Theresa May has put the Queen in a 'very difficult position' over Donald Trump's UK visit”; Business Insider; January 31, 2017). I am not endorsing confrontation with Trump, but we have to remember that his credentials and legitimacy as the president is extremely poor.

He is not only the most unpopular president since the end of World War II, but also an unprecedentedly illegitimate leader as he gained 300 million popular votes fewer than Hillary Clinton. In other words, we can regard him as a president of gerrymandering. As a politician of democracy, Trump is poorly trained. His blames against the media and the judge show this. He hardly understands checks and balances, and the rule of law. Rather than flattering to Trump, democratic nations should have firewalls in America to protect themselves from his irrational pressure. For example, Senator John McCain defended Australia against Trump’s verbal abuse. Also, Secretary of Defense James Mattis joins the Trump cabinet, on behalf of the mainstream of the national security community.